The buzz over Hillary Clinton’s medical condition reminded me of how John F. Kennedy’s campaign successfully covered up his serious adrenal problems – and continued to do so even after his assassination in 1963. JFK’s situation was serious, as according to the National Institutes of Health, adrenal hormones “regulat[e] blood pressure; metabolism, the way the body uses digested food for energy; and the body’s response to stress.” Severe ‘adrenal insufficiency’ can be fatal.
Rumors bubbled up during the 1960 presidential campaign about JFK’s health. This wasn’t a conspiracy fiction; in 1954 JFK had received the Last Rites from a Catholic priest before undergoing back surgery, due to the dangers posed by his failing adrenal system. The New York Times reported on the surgery but not on JFK’s adrenal problem.
In fact, JFK received a large dose of cortisone prior to the operation so his body could cope with the stress of surgery.
Fast-forward to 1960. To deal with the rumors, JFK’s brother, Robert, stated that his brother did not nor ever had Addison’s disease (a type of adrenal insufficiency). This was brilliant hair-splitting. Addison’s disease is caused by tuberculosis. However, a person can have adrenal problems without having had TB – which was JFK’s situation.
The usual treatment in 1960 was injections of cortisone. Cortisone was the reason JFK looked puffy sometimes; his adrenal problems were the reason for his perpetual tan.
Further, when Lyndon Johnson was indicating an interest in the presidential race, the JFK camp declared him unfit due to his near-fatal heart attack in 1955.
What’s very strange is how the Kennedy family insisted on hiding JFK’s problem even after he was dead. For example, the Warren Commission report made no mention of it, although it was evident to the Dallas surgeons who performed the autopsy.
Twenty-nine years later, in 1992, two of the autopsy surgeons revealed JFK’s body essentially had no adrenal glands. A third surgeon stated the Kennedy family did not want the autopsy to include the abdomen because a human’s adrenal glands are in the abdominal cavity.
Returning to the 1960 election: considering how close the election was (fewer than 115,000 votes), would Nixon have won if voters knew of JFK’s disease? I think so, especially if the truth had come out despite Robert Kennedy’s evasions. RFK’s word-twisting would have colored JFK’s medical condition as worse than perhaps it really was.
Now we have Hillary Clinton’s medical condition to consider. She’s in a much more perilous political situation than JFK was. Some of the reasons are obvious: in 1960 reporters didn’t have access to high-resolution color videos. It wasn’t noteworthy if the candidate looked a bit puffy or brown as long as he was active on the trail.
What’s less obvious and more dangerous (to Hillary) is the swarm of journalists who aspire to be the next Woodward and Bernstein (the Watergate busters). The one who’s first to report on her real medical condition will join Messrs. W. and B. in the pantheon of journalists. Add a Pulitzer prize and movie rights, and getting the goods on what’s going on inside Hillary’s body will be very lucrative indeed.
The sensible solution would be for Hillary to tell the truth. No Robert Kennedy-like evasions.
If she would explain what’s ailing her and how she’s coping with it; that might put the issue to rest. She ought to let the voters decide whether her health prevents her from serving in the White House. But, considering the Clintons’ long history of excuses and double-speak, I think we’re in for more evasions and less truth during these final weeks of the campaign.